Microsoft's holiday ad shows off translation technology for dozens of languages (and reindeer)

Key Points
  • Microsoft unveils its new holiday commercial this week to showcase its translation software.
  • In the ad, a little girl uses the software to talk to reindeer.
  • Microsoft shares have surged this year, pushing the company's market cap past $1 trillion.
Microsoft's holiday spot, "Holiday Magic: Lucy & The Reindeer"

Microsoft's new holiday ad will promote the company's voice language translation technology, highlighting an area where the software giant is going head to head with Amazon and Google.

The ad, which premieres Thursday during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, touts Microsoft Translator, a cloud service that can translate dozens of languages. In the commercial, a six-year-old girl watches as her mother takes part in a conference call from home as her colleagues speak in Japanese and uses her Surface tablet to translate for her. The ad was made with Microsoft's ad agency, Interpublic Group's McCann.

The girl later takes the tablet outside into the snow to try to talk to two reindeer. Once she realizes she's able to translate their snorts into English using the Surface device, she fires off a number of questions like, "What does Santa do in the summer?" and "Is Mrs. Claus a good cook?"

Real-time language translation has been an area of research at Microsoft, Amazon and Google, the three leading U.S. providers of cloud infrastructure. All three companies operate speech assistants that can translate spoken words and sentences and offer text translation technologies for other businesses to weave into applications.

Kathleen Hall, Microsoft's corporate vice president of brand, advertising and research, told CNBC that this year's holiday ad follows a theme from recent years focusing on how technology can bring people together instead of creating barriers. In a previous spot, musician Common showed how Microsoft uses artificial intelligence to analyze camera-trap images for snow leopard sightings to help conservation efforts.

In Microsoft's Super Bowl ad this year, called "We All Win," the company focused on a child, Owen Sirmons, with a rare genetic disorder called Escobar syndrome, which limits physical movement. Owen is shown using an Xbox Adaptive Controller to play with his friends. The boy also starred in the company's holiday ad from last year, which shows his friends running through the neighborhood to watch him win a game using the controller.

"I think the theme was really building off last year: What does technology do to make the world better for people, or bring them together?" Hall said.

Microsoft's market cap topped $1 trillion this year, and the stock is up 49% in 2019 as of Monday's close. While language translation is a potentially lucrative business for Microsoft, Hall said regardless of how the company is performing it thinks about campaigns like this the same way.

"If you're making a lot of money or you're not, you should have the same basic values," she said. "The DNA of the company doesn't change."

The commercial, which will run across TV, cinema, digital and social channels through December, finishes by saying, "Happy Holidays in 60+ Languages. Reindeer isn't one of them. Yet."

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